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Fantasy Stars: Top of the Third (Round)

Welcome to the penultimate edition of Fantasy Stars. This week we'll be looking at the first six players off the board in the third round. Last week, we discussed the latter half of the second round, ending on Josh Hamilton in pick number 24. He's been passed up by David Wright and Giancarlo Stanton and dropped a spot into pick 25. The picks are still close enough that their strategic value really isn't any different. For our purposes, we'll just pretend like Wright is still Mr. Number 25 and lead off the top of the third with him.

As always on Fantasy Stars, the Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers come from  MockDraftCentral and come from 111 qualifying drafts. The stats shown with the players are the Big 5:  AVG/HR/R/RBI/SB for position players and IP/W/K/ERA/WHIP for starting pitchers. 

25. David Wright, 3B              ADP 25.83
26. Cliff Lee, SP                         ADP 30.05
27. Yadier Molina, C             ADP 30.93
28. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF      ADP 31.07
29. Jose Reyes, SS                  ADP 31.38
30. Starlin Castro, SS            ADP 33.97 

In these picks, drafters seem to be paying a little more attention to position scarcity than in the first and second round, with two shortstops, a third baseman, and a catcher. Nothing wrong with that in my mind; the third round is a great time start caring about these sorts of things.

25. David Wright, 3B    .306/21/91/93/15
Wright is a pretty acceptable pick here. He bounced back from his injury-marred 2011 campaign and, while he hasn't recovered his mid-00's form, he's returned to near the top of a tough position. Cabrera is a clear number one, Beltre the clear number two, and Wright probably ought to be the number three guy at third base. (Though you could make a case for Evan Longoria too.)

It should be made clear that this is a position scarcity move, however. Wright isn't the player he was at his peak, and he hasn't shown signs of returning. The HR's have dropped to the low 20's; between that drop and the Mets' lineup I'd be pretty surprised if he matched last year's Run and RBI totals. With a SB% of just 60% last year, it would make sense to see him run less and less. His batting average is still good, though, thanks to a career's worth of great BABIP's, and I don't imagine that changing for 2013 unless injuries bite again. When you go after him, though, you have to remember that average is the only category in which he's an impact player. 

26. Cliff Lee, SP 211/6/207/3.16/1.11
Cliff Lee was so good in 2012. His 3.16 ERA matched his 3.13 FIP almost exactly. He posted the second best  K/9 rate of his career, 8.83. His K/BB of 7.39 led the Majors by almost two full points. Too bad he played for the Houston Astros and they couldn't muster up a win for him until the Fourth of July. Oh, what? He didn't play for the Astros? Then how did that happen? The Phillies weren't good last year, and a lot of their good points are tied up in Lee's left arm (not to mention the arms of Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay), but they aren't so bad that what happened last year should be considered the norm.

Mock drafters aren't nearly as worried as I would have liked, because I was selfishly hoping for some sneaky value here. I guess playing fantasy baseball against Buzzie Bavasi puts too much emphasis on fantasy. Regardless, I like using a third round pick on Lee, and I think he might be the best bet in pitching after Strasburg, Kershaw, and Verlander are gone. The one caveat is the one I mentioned about David Price in the last go around, and that's that there remain several high-quality starters that will still be available to someone using this pick on Lee.

27. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF .271/4/43/26/14
In the RotoAuthority Silver League, I made Ellsbury my proud first pick at the end of the first round. Coming off a 2011 in which he'd been one of the best players in baseball and added sudden power to his game of blazing speed and good batting average, I was pretty excited. Even if the power fell off, I'd be left with a game-changing base stealer. It was a no-lose situation.

As you may recall, I lost. Injuries have been a big part of Ellsbury's career, killing two of his last three seasons. I took the risk on my fellow Oregonian last year, and I'd do it again this year--for a discount. I don't expect much power in 2013--his ISO of .099 was less than half of the .230 he posted in his big 2011--but the upside is there. The downside remains a season lost to injury, but the median remains too: a good average hitter with enough speed to carry your team to the top of the category. Unless something drastic changes in his health, he'll be a risk every year, in fantasy and in real life, but for now he's a pretty good risk to take. 

I would rather have him in the fourth round than right here, but if you believe more fervently in his power potential, or can't bear to draft the likes of Coco Crisp or Alcides Escobar later on, I can understand. I probably wouldn't take him with OF's Curtis Granderson or B.J. Upton still on the board, and I definitely wouldn't take him over Jose Reyes, who we'll be looking at momentarily.

 28. Yadier Molina, C .315/22/65/76/12
When Yadier Molina first came up, he hit like...well...he hit like his brother Jose. Then he added batting average and he was a good average, nothing else catcher. Then in 2011 his power output more than doubled, from six to 14 homers. Then, in 2012 he clubbed 22 and slugged .501 with a .186 ISO. For kicks, he added 12 stolen bases, proving my thesis that everyone is stealing bases and their value is dropping accordingly. But that's another story, this one belongs to the new Best Molina Brother.

Yadier Molina is an easy choice for second catcher off the board, coming as he does without the health concerns of Joe Mauer, Mike Napoli, or Carlos Santana, and without a single weakness in his category game.

Not every projection system is bullish about Molina retaining all the power he found last year, but even a reversion to his 2011 numbers is like Miguel Montero but with stolen bases. His batting average is also one of the safest looking, since he managed it with just a slightly above-average .316 BABIP. Actually, it wouldn't take much good luck for his average to improve next season.

So, he's the catcher you want--do you want a catcher in the second round? Just because he's the best catcher left no longer means that he's the only good catcher left. (It sure used to.) Mauer, Napoli, Santana, Montero, Matt Wieters, Wilin Rosario, Salvador Perez, and Victor Martinez are all pretty good. You can even dream on Jesus Montero, hope for a Brian McCann comeback, or an A.J. Pierzynski repeat. There's a lot more depth at catcher than we're all used to, which means I'd rather take one of the shortstops coming up next, get the fourth or fifth best catcher and have two good players at weak positions. Remember also that a catcher's low playing time limits the goodness of his batting average.

29. Jose Reyes, SS .287/11/86/57/40
Reyes is a great choice here. Actually, I think he's a pretty good choice in the second round too. Shortstop is such a weak position and Reyes has stats that would be impact numbers even in the outfield. That combination makes him a great investment. 

I think it's reasonable to bet on Reyes to increase his homer total. Though Marlins Park in Miami and Rogers Centre in Toronto had almost identical overall park effects last year, their HR effects couldn't have been more different: 0.720 in Miami, 1.030 in Toronto. He's going from a park that depressed homers at a huge rate (making it the fifth-worst) to one that's more or less average. I don't think Reyes will break 20 homers this year, but he could certainly scrape it, which would be pretty good for a shortstop who didn't steal bases by the dozen.

He turns 30 this year, so it's probably too late to wish for a return of his 60-steal days, but another 40 if he can stay healthy wouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Expect a healthy Reyes to give three categories of excellence and throw in a few extras in homers. Don't get too excited about his RBI total, but who's quibbling at this point?

30. Starlin Castro, SS .283/14/78/78/25
Whenever I see two position scarce players in a row, I wonder if the whole of mock drafters are going on a collective position run. Well, a small one. Or, at least, one big groupthink knee-jerk reaction. It's not that I don't like Castro, it's just that he's not as good as Reyes and it seems odd that they should have such apparently equal value.

To be fair, the big difference is in steals, and that isn't so big that Castro couldn't conceivably close the gap as he improves. Right? Don't bet on it. Castro's SB% is almost exactly 66%--or right on the new break-even for success on the basepaths. If I were his manager, I'd keep him running exactly as much as he is right now. Reyes is succeeding more than 78% of the time, which is to say he might help the team by running even more. Maybe the Blue Jays will notice that and maybe they won't, but I bet they aren't going to be slowing him down any time soon.

Castro could improve in this or any other aspect of his game (he is just 23), he also might not. The third round isn't a terrible time to grab a player who is good now and has a decent chance of getting better but he's no sure thing, and he isn't the only shortstop who might see some improvement in the immediate future. 

Here's how I would reorder these players: Reyes, Wright, Lee, Castro, Ellsbury, Molina. In a departure from previous weeks, I think all six are sensible third round picks. While there are some whole positions I might shy away from, these are the players I'd take if I were going to draft a catcher or a starter. 

Tune in next week, for the exciting conclusion of the third round, not to mention the Fantasy Stars series. Don't spend too much time mourning the loss because the Player Rankings will be taking its place!

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